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Q&A Series with Ben Morris, President of UMB Healthcare Services Part Three: Roy Ramthun Breaks Down the Political Landscape for HSAs

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With the demise of the American Health Care Act, there are a lot of unknowns in the health care industry. UMB Healthcare Services’ Strategic Advisory Council, made up of five leading industry experts in a variety of health care, benefits and research-related fields, will discuss the future of health care and what to do during this period of uncertainty in our April 27th webinar. Gearing up for the webinar, we asked members of our Strategic Advisory Council questions about their outlook for the future of health care.

In the third Q&A series, I talk with Roy Ramthun, president of HSA Consulting Services, about the political landscape and outlook for consumer directed health care. We look at the impact on health savings accounts (HSAs), high deductible health plans, and the private market and exchanges.

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What is the political landscape for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) in the future?

I see the political landscape for HSAs as being very positive. Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, health plan deductibles have increased dramatically and people have become very concerned about high out of pocket costs. Fortunately, HSAs are perfectly suited to help people protect themselves by putting aside money for those out of pocket costs while providing them tax savings. With the triple tax advantage that HSAs offer, it’s like the government gives you a rebate every time you put money into your HSA.

Everything I am seeing suggests that more employers are going to be offering HSAs to their employees in the future. The discussion occurring in Washington, while still unsettled at this time, suggests that HSAs will play a greater role in financing people’s health care.  Any improvements will provide even more incentives for Americans to use HSAs to meet their out of pocket costs.  Some of the improvements under consideration include allowing people to put more money into their HSA each year and providing more flexibility in terms of how HSAs can be used to pay for health care services.

What is the outlook for High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) – do we see these as a key player with the bolstering of HSAs?

I think HDHPs are here to stay which is kind of “back to the future” in health insurance. Not that long ago, we all bought health insurance to protect us from major medical bills. Over time new plans like HMOs offered first dollar coverage for almost everything and we forgot the basic principles of insurance.  Now the pendulum has swung back the other way and it seems like most of the PPO plans have raised their deductibles so they look almost identical to high deductible plans. Interestingly, if we had a more flexible standard for the type of health insurance plan that makes people eligible for an HSA, a lot more people could have HSAs. Hopefully we will have that conversation soon. That is not going to be a part of the initial debate, but it is something we could see as part of a second or third health care conversation.

What is the outlook for the private market and exchanges?

Unfortunately, both are in disarray and concerns about their future viability are legitimate. If the goal is to offer more affordable products, it gets harder when you start introducing more requirements and regulations. Consumers have lost a lot of freedom to choose affordable policies that meet their needs. Not enough healthy people are buying policies to even out the costs for sick people that cannot be denied coverage. There are fundamental flaws in the current system and whether or not that can be corrected anytime soon is a very open question.

How do you see the modifications to the health care laws impacting the behaviors of HSA consumers?

One aspect that could impact HSA consumer behavior is the prospect of increased contribution limits. I think this will energize people to see HSAs as savings accounts rather than spending accounts. As their HSAs grow, the hope is that they will start thinking about using their HSA to plan for future health care expenses like retirement. Studies suggest that people are not saving enough for retirement. HSAs could potentially be the tool they need to help them reach their financial goals for retirement. As we age, many of us will probably spend a greater percentage of our income on health care expenses. It never hurts to have another tool in the toolbox—especially one that is focused on health expenses and has the most tax advantages available.

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Q&A Series with Ben Morris, President of UMB Healthcare Services

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Part Two: Ann Mond Johnson examines how employers can effectively maximize their employees’ health care benefits

Repeal and replacement of the ACA didn’t happen, now what? UMB Healthcare Services’ Strategic Advisory Council, made up of five leading industry experts in a variety of health care, benefits and research-related fields, will discuss the uncertainty surrounding health care and how to manage health care costs in our April 27th webinar. Gearing up for the webinar, we asked members of our Strategic Advisory Council questions about their outlook for the future of health care and tips for managing health care costs. 

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In this Q&A series, I talk with Ann Mond Johnson, health care innovator and executive, about how employers can effectively maximize employees’ health care benefits, make wellness a key aspect of company culture and the future of making health care easier to understand and access.

What should employers be doing to effectively maximize their employees’ health care benefits?

Employees can maximize their benefit dollars when they understand what they’re selecting and are able to choose benefits that are most appropriate for them and their families. After all, people don’t want to buy health insurance; they want security for themselves and their families. They need protection against a financial disaster. Employers can help employees make better health care selections by providing comprehensive education on benefits and how to use benefits year-round. By engaging in the health care conversation throughout the year, employers can help employees make informed, thoughtful decisions.

How can employers make wellness a part of their culture?

Everything we’ve seen and read indicates that the most effective organizations “practice what they preach,” starting at the top of the organization. It doesn’t have to be very involved or expensive. Given that there are five big contributors to good health (tobacco, food choices, BMI, physical activity and unmanaged stress) focusing on at least one of these can likely make an impact. Employers can encourage a culture of wellness for their employees by providing useful resources such as timely and educational communications, sponsoring teams of employees for local races and having healthy food choices in on premise facilities.

Is health care going to become more complicated or easier for consumers?

It is imperative to make it easier for people to access and understand health care. But what does that really mean? First off, it needs to be easier for consumers to make the right decisions about their benefits, starting with health insurance. Second, they should understand how to make decisions that impact their health. Employees also need to understand what constitutes reliable sources of information. Finally, since we’re consumers until we become patients, we need more insights and transparency about the choices we make when we become patients – about drugs, physicians, treatments and facilities.

Are there any other topics or points that you want to touch on?

There is a growing acknowledgement of a close link between physical, emotional and financial health. Employers have the opportunity to help guide and encourage employees to make informed decisions about their general wellness. Offering programs that look at overall wellness is a great way to encourage the happiness and health of employees.

View this brief video for further thoughts from Ann Mond.

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Q&A with President of UMB Healthcare Services Ben Morris and Jen Benz, CEO of Benz Communication

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Part One: Q&A with President of UMB Healthcare Services Ben Morris and Jen Benz, CEO of Benz Communication

Healthcare is one of the most important benefits employees will take advantage of in their careers, but many employees don’t think about or fully understand their benefits until they have a situation where they need to use them.

President of UMB Healthcare Services Ben Morris recently asked Jen Benz, CEO of Benz Communication a few questions on how employers can help employees better understand their healthcare options and benefits.

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How should employers be talking to their employees about healthcare benefits?

Employers are uniquely positioned to help employees understand their healthcare benefits. A big part of that is helping them understand the different options that are available to them. This means not only helping them choose the program that will benefit them the most physically, but also financially and emotionally. In our experience, we’ve found this is best done by engaging employees in a concerted communication effort using three tried and true tactics:

  1. Get online.
    Providing a single website for healthcare related questions, and a streamlined benefits website gives employees and family members access to valuable content. Having a secure vendor website also makes it easy to take action and complete transactions. This way, employees can get the information they need and act by visiting just one website.
  2. Engage with employees and their families year-round.
    Employees need information year-round on how to use benefits effectively. Believe it or not, many companies still talk to employees about their benefits only once a year. However, as we’ve seen, healthcare laws can and do change, and providing constant communication about how new and evolving rules and regulations could affect employees becomes even more important.
  3. Measure and improve.
    How effective is your communication? Look at web traffic, email click-through and open rates and meeting attendance. What’s your program participation and use? Gain a clear picture of communication effectiveness and gaps by looking at:

    • Health and wellness plan enrollment and participation
    • Preventive care, financial wellness program and employee assistance program utilization
    • Health and financial outcomes—for instance, biometric and claims data as well as retirement plan and HSA balances show where employees are doing well and where they’re still getting stuck.

You mentioned engaging with employees and their families year-round. What sort of conversations and educational opportunities can be used to engage employees?

When it comes to employees, one size most definitely does not fit all. You’ll learn more about employees as individuals by asking the questions that matter. You will also gain greater insight into what drives your people when you view them as individuals and focus your information-gathering activities accordingly. Once you know what matters most to them, you can start to build messages and education opportunities that better resonate, helping to educate them about the things they care about, which is a win/win.

Should employers focus conversations on health rather than benefit selection?

They’re both equally important conversations to have with employees. During enrollment, it’s the employer’s job to make things easy and clear—and make sure employees and their families are focused on what they need to do at that time.

In reality, the most important questions employees have are also the most basic: What’s new? What will it cost me? What do I have to do? Make sure you answer these questions in a simple and direct manner. A one-page enrollment “tip sheet” that lists changes, includes brief enrollment instructions, and tells employees and families where to go for details will usually suffice. Some employees want just the top-line info, while others want all the details. This one-page overview will be helpful for both groups.

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